VHP patron Singhal dead

Ashok Singhal, the VHP patriarch credited with giving Hindutva a political face in the shape of the Ayodhya movement, died today in a Gurgaon hospital. He was 89.

By Radhika Ramaseshan
  • Published 18.11.15
  •  

New Delhi, Nov. 17: Ashok Singhal, the VHP patriarch credited with giving Hindutva a political face in the shape of the Ayodhya movement, died today in a Gurgaon hospital. He was 89.

The end came at 2.24pm following cardiovascular failure and septicaemia.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom Singhal was one of the first to endorse as Prime Minister at the 2012 Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, acknowledged the "deep personal loss".

"The demise of Ashok Singhalji is a deep personal loss. He was an institution in himself, whose life was centered around serving the nation. I was always fortunate to receive Ashokji's blessings and guidance," Modi tweeted in a condolence message.

Singhal's death could not have come at a more inopportune time for the Prime Minister, who faces his next big challenge within the Sangh parivar by January - when it's time for his closest political ally, Amit Shah, to demit office as BJP president.

A large section of the BJP, backed by a few top Sangh officials, want Shah to be replaced with someone with the potential to challenge the near hegemonic rule the Shah-Modi duo have brought in the party.

Sources said Singhal's death was bound to unsettle the BJP or, more precisely, Modi's equation with the VHP.

Singhal - whom the RSS had "loaned" to the VHP in 1980 - was credited with giving a "political" face to Hindutva - an abstraction till he breathed life into the concept in the shape of the Ayodhya movement.

His ideas have yielded rich electoral dividends for the BJP since 1989, when the party made its first big impact in national politics. Singhal was so obsessive about the temple agenda that he forsook singing, his other passion. He was a classical Hindustani vocalist who was trained by Pandit Omkarnath Thakur.

Singhal, designated as a "patron" of the VHP after he ceased being the working president in 2011, was not on the RSS's central executive council, its top command structure. But Sangh sources said till the last he "inspired" more "awe and fear" in the pracharaks (whole-timers) and swayamsevaks (volunteers) than even Sangh chief Mohanrao Bhagwat. "He did not need to hold a formal office," said a pracharak.

Born in Uttar Pradesh's Atrauli to a bureaucrat, who settled in Allahabad, Singhal and his seven siblings gave away vast properties the family owned in the city to a Vedic Vidyalaya and other institutions imparting Hindu religious lessons.